Why did Jesus rise? According to 1 Peter 1:3 the resurrection of Jesus brings us two ‘life-changing’ benefits: “In his great mercy, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, God has given us new life and a living hope.”
A living hope
It goes without saying that death is a terrible thing. Most people face their own deaths with understandable trepidation. And if human life is about relationships, the deaths of loved ones rob us of those relationships we value most. The resurrection of Jesus means that as believers in Christ we do not face death as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Paul’s great exposition of the meaning of the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15 climaxes with the words: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ death has lost its sting. By his resurrection Jesus destroyed death and brought “life and immortality to light” (2 Timothy 1:10).
But what is the nature of this hope and how does it work? Many Jews in Jesus’ day believed in a general resurrection of all people at the end of time ushering in the New Age (see Daniel 12:1-2). We see this belief in Martha’s response to Jesus when he tells her that her dead brother, Lazarus, would live again: “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:24). When Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb it certainly wasn’t what Martha was expecting!
But as remarkable as the resurrection of Lazarus was, it does not compare with the resurrection of Jesus. Lazarus needed someone to take off his grave clothes. He rose to return to life as it was before he died. And he could expect to die again. In fact, death threats against Lazarus appear as soon as the next chapter in John (12:10)! The resurrection of Jesus is of an entirely different order. Jesus leaves his grave clothes behind. He rose to a new life beyond death – a new dimension of living. He would never die again. His resurrection was the beginning of the New Age.
It is not that the Jews were wrong about the great resurrection at “the last day.” What took everyone by surprise is that God did for Jesus in the middle of history what most Jews believed he would do at the end of history. And the resurrection of Jesus is the harbinger of that great day for which we still wait in confident hope. Christ’s resurrection was the “firstfruits” of the future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20, 23). Jesus is the “firstborn” of the new creation (Romans 8:29).
If you’ve ever been to a motor show you’ll know that they have three types of cars on display: (1) Concept cars – odd vehicles that will never be built; (2) Cars for sale; and (3) Prototypes – new models, not yet for sale, but soon to be produced in large numbers.
Jesus is the prototype of the new humanity, the first cab off the rank. His bodily resurrection is stage one of a two-stage resurrection. At the second coming of Christ “the Lord Jesus Christ . . . will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
Jesus said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). Because of the resurrection of Jesus we have a living hope.
But we don’t have to wait until we die or Jesus returns to experience resurrection life. We live now as those who belong to the New Age. The resurrection of Christ is vitally important for understanding what it means to follow Christ and be part of God’s people. Christ was raised “so that we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
What does it mean to live now as those raised with Christ? Colossians 3 fills out some of the details. We are to set our hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things. We must resist the temptations to sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, anger and unwholesome speech. We are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and love.
The resurrection of Jesus also leads us to worship. When the two Marys witnessed Jesus risen from the dead, their response was to clasp his feet and to worship him (Matthew 28:9).
More soberingly, as we know the power of Jesus’ resurrection in our lives here-and-now, we should also expect to share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Resurrection life is no walk in the park. To be raised with Christ means that we must also die with him to living in ways marked by pure self-interest. Love can be costly and the final victory over sin, death and the devil does not come until the day our own resurrection bodies come off the production line.
The Book of Common Prayer teaches us to pray:
“O God our King, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, you conquered sin, put death to flight, and gave us the hope of everlasting life: Redeem all our days by this victory; forgive our sins, banish our fears, make us bold to praise you and to do your will; and steel us to wait for the consummation of your kingdom on the last great Day; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Rev Dr Brian Rosner
Principal, Ridley Melbourne
This article was first printed in the April 2014 edition of The Melbourne Anglican